Book Reviews

Book Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is a massive phenomenon with the film adaptations making a star of actress Jennifer Lawrence and bringing audiences streaming into the cinemas. Try the original first novel of Suzanne Collins’ series about the most brutal reality TV show ever to see what all the fuss is about.

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In a dystopian future where the government controls a rebellious population by sending their children to fight and die in televised combat, Katniss Everdeen just wants to keep her family alive. However, when her younger sister gets chosen as a ‘Tribute’ to fight in the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place and is caught up in a frantic fight for survival that makes her a target of the government as well as her fellow Tributes.

Katniss is a fiery and determined heroine whose struggle to stay alive makes you root for her. The Hunger Games starts slowly, building up the setting and Katniss as a character, but it quickly becomes a brutal, action-packed tale of survival. Katniss is not just fighting for her own life, but for the lives of her mother and sister: the surviving Tribute in the Hunger Games wins food for their family and their entire District, but without her they will starve.

Armed with her archery skills and her determination, you would think that Katniss has an edge, but when she goes up against ‘career’ Tributes who have been training for the Games their whole lives and the dangerous arena itself, she discovers that she needs to win the crowd before she can win the Games. Luckily her fellow Tribute from District 12, Peeta, is willing to pretend a Romeo and Juliet-style tale of young love in the midst of conflict, but can they keep their will to survive separate from their feelings from one another, and when does pretending at love turn into the real thing?

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The Mockingjay pin has become a recognisable symbol of the series

Members of the supporting cast are casualties of the Games as much as Katniss is – the cynical, hard-drinking Haymitch who is still haunted by his own time in the arena, Peeta, the other Tribute from Katniss’ District whose skills revolve around decorating cakes, and Cinna, the fashion designer who puts his life on the line to turn Katniss’ appearance in the Games into a political weapon.

There are lots of political messages that can be seen in The Hunger Games, from critiques of the wealth gap to extrapolating our capacity for enjoying suffering in reality TV. The culture shock Katniss experiences when she goes from her own poverty-stricken District Twelve to the wasteful excess of the Capitol and the ghoulish delight the citizens of the Capitol take in the spectacle of children killing each other reflect our own society in a twisted mirror. However, hope is still alive throughout the series: this is a story of the failure of a corrupt system, and how a few people can make a difference.

If you enjoyed the films but haven’t read the original books, you’re missing out: The Hunger Games is an action-filled story with compelling characters and high stakes, and while the films have so far been fairly faithful, the book provides much more detail on the Districts and the Capitol.

Find The Hunger Games in QUICK READS at 823.92.

If you liked The Hunger Games

Try the film adaptation, also titled The Hunger Games, kept in our DVD section at 791.43. It distils the book into a visually-stunning and well-paced experience. Read our review here.

The other two books in the trilogy, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, are shelved at 823.92. Catching Fire has a similar set-up to The Hunger Games but takes the familiar plot line in unexpected ways. I can’t say too much more because of spoilers! Mockingjay moves away from the Hunger Games themselves to tell an unflinching story of the horrors and hope of revolution.

Take a look at some of the advertising put out for the film adaptations. The marketing departments have deliberately set out to mirror the in-film marketing, putting people viewing the adverts and buying the products in the real world into the role of citizens of the Capitol, with elaborate posters of the characters, propaganda about the subordinate role the Districts play in Panem and inspiring messages about the rebellion. It doesn’t always work, though – the Subway sandwich themed around The Hunger Games was a rather ironic choice!

Collins has been accused by some people of taking her story from the Japanese novel Battle Royale by Koushun Takami, about a group of school children placed on an island and forced to fight for their lives. There are some similarities between The Hunger Games and this ultra-violent franchise, such as the use of a grid to force the contestants into the same areas of the arena, but the two are very different. A live-action film of Battle Royale was made in 2002 and is more well-known in America and Europe than the novel. (DVD shelved at 791.430952 – 18 certificate). Read our review here.

We’ve mentioned The Hunger Games before in our Short History of Dystopian Fiction. Learn about the books that came before and read more visions of oppression and rebellion.

References:

Marco-willy (2015) The hunger games. [photograph] Available at: https://pixabay.com/en/the-hunger-games-sinsajo-only-811955/ (Accessed: 10th November 2016).

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